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The first extract I ran from “The Unseen Promise” was so popular, I was asked to do it again! So, let me present some brand new Ellen Mae Franklin to you! I hear on the grapevine she might be coming over for an interview, soon, very soon…

*******************

We can be heroes,

if just for one day

 

The happy pair had spent months together, travelling Tarkeenia without any real endpoint. Just wandering from one place to the other, suiting themselves as it pleased. It was an unusual union, but for some strange reason it worked. Well, most days anyway. Today was different, however. It was one of those days, the kind that makes you feel crabby, even though the sun is shining – and grouchy, because you couldn’t find that poking twig that kept you wide awake for most of the night, and testy, because Coal, the fire sprite, just wouldn’t shut his talking hole. Today, Brar just wished the sun would do its business of shining. Quietly mind, for he so desperately needed a full night’s rest. Then maybe after that he could cope with his travelling friend’s incessant whining.

“I told you, we have to go this way.” Child-like in appearance, this tiny man, with his pointy tipped ears, crossed his arms over his thin chest in a sulkiness that most others only dreamed of achieving.

Brar stared at his friend. As silent as a stone, the Jaroona refused to budge. “I’m only going to say this once, Coal. I’m in no mood for a tantrum.”

The fire sprite hung upside down by his knees, swinging back and forth on a skinny tree branch, poking out a long black tongue. The fellow laughed. “My tantrums are spectacular, and you know it. But I tell you, Master Brar, we go no further this day until you agree to disagree.”

Everything about this creature was pointed. His long face with its narrow chin exuded defiance. His bad taste purple pointy shoes, his sharp, pointy nose that stood predominately in the middle of his delicate face. So, it would be only natural that his personality should follow suit. It was sharp and angular like everything else on his tiny body. Mischief ruled even the most sensible of choices, and Coal revelled in delight at his friend’s ill temper.

Brar couldn’t help himself; he changed and by doing so disappeared from sight. It was a coping mechanism, this changing. He could become whatever it was that he stood in front of. Appearing as the same texture, colour and pattern, Brar blended himself perfectly into the background. Only moving brought him back to the familiar form of his teddy bear look. This time he was so angry that his changing shimmered. Trembling with Coal’s sudden stupid demand, Brar couldn’t control his emotions.

“Just look at what you’ve done,” shouted the Jaroona.

Coal squealed with delight. “Oh that’s good! The best yet, I reckon. We could charge money for something like that, Brar.” All of a sudden, he became serious. “Look, I don’t know what to say except that we have to go that way. I’m surprised you didn’t hear it.”

“Hear what, you sun-blessed midget? You keep saying that, and I don’t for the love of me know what you’re talking about.”

Coal cocked his head to the side, lips pursed in that way he had, just before shedding a tear or two.

“Don’t you dare cry.” Brar stamped his foot with as much authority as he could muster. He wasn’t very good at dishing out a ‘say so,’ and feeling the way he did today wasn’t going to help.

Coal’s bottom lip trembled in preparation, and before the Jaroona was able to conjure up a reasonable plea to forestall the fire sprite’s blubbering, the little man began to wail. Tears of molten silver fell from his almond shaped eyes, splashing to the ground in a sizzling hiss. His skin turned from his usual pale pink to a darkening crimson. Hotter and hotter – and the branch he dangled from crackled inred heat.

“STOP!” Brar cried. “I can’t stand it! We’ll go whichever way you want. I don’t know why, and really, at this moment, I don’t care. Just stop your blubbering and don’t talk for the rest of this morning. If you can manage that, then I promise not to kill you.”

It was immediate. As quickly as it had begun, Coal quietened. He grinned, flashing Brar a set of very sharp teeth. “You’ll see. Everything will be fine now. You’ll feel better on the way, I’m sure.”

“Aaargh.” Brar aimed a furry slap at the sprite.

Coal did what he always did when he wanted out, he twinked. Vanishing, he left nothing but a trail of steam to mark his disappearance. Coal’s high pitched, almost hysterical laughter floated overhead. Brar groaned. The day wasn’t going to get any better.

***

The morning passed, and Coal’s promise fell away with the walking hours.

What was I thinking? Brar silently moaned. Coal’s prattling began as a muffled buzz beneath his furry coat, up against his neck. But as the morning faded, turning the day into a warm afternoon, the sprite’s voice rose to a shrilly banter.

“That voice, Brar – it was truly beautiful. It was like music lilting and soft, like a hot wind. No, more like a lark singing, that is, if you like that kind of thing. Me, I don’t really like the sound of a lark, although if you were to ask another, they might say that it was the nicest thing they had ever heard. I don’t know why she picked me. Have you ever asked yourself a question like that? Why it is that someone so wonderful would pick you, tell you the secrets of the sun? Still, she sure was beautiful…”

He would have gone on if Brar hadn’t stopped him. It was too much, this dribbling of shit, so he plonked down in the dirt and waited – waited for Coal to realise that they weren’t moving anymore.

“Hey! What’s this? Why have you stopped?” Coal left Brar’s shoulder, and floated a foot or so in front of the Jaroona’s face. He was smart enough to know not to get too close, for a swat from Brar usually meant a spell of nothingness for a bit. He didn’t like that kind of sleep, so he kept his distance. “Well, friend why have we stopped?”

“I want to know what this is all about. We’ve changed our course to suit this sudden turn about and I don’t know why. Now it’s my turn not to take another step until you have explained yourself.”

Coal knew when he was defeated, and this was one of those times. Brar could be quite bullheaded at times, so he folded his skinny legs under him, and floating on a cushion of air, did his best to explain what it was that he heard.

“I don’t know who she was ’cause she never told me,” complained the sprite. “But it was truly wonderful. It was as though I could feel the words, each a scorching blast of hot air. Oh, I think I’m in love….” he trailed off with one of his theatrical poses.

Brar growled. He too had a very sharp set of teeth.

“All right, I’ll get on with it. You’re a kill joy when you’re in this mood.” Coal brandished a scowl at Brar. “She told me to find the woods – go past the yellow flower heads – and if I got there, it would be to a hero’s welcome.” He folded his arms over his chest and jutted out his chin.

Oh my! He’s finally had too much sun. The Jaroona lifted his eyebrows so far up his forehead that they were immediately lost in his snow-white fringe. “You’re mad,” he exclaimed. “You actually think that you heard an invisible woman tell you such a thing. Something as absurd as that could set us back weeks.”

Coal twinked and disappeared. The smell of sulphur hung in the air. Brar scratched and picked at a biting gnat. Pinching it between two sharp claws, the Jaroona contemplated eating the twitching insect and as he opened his mouth, the annoying chatter he knew so well began again.

“I found it! I found it!” Coal zipped back and forth across his line of vision like an angry mosquito. He stopped dead in mid-air when he saw the gnat and Brar’s open mouth. “Now that‘s disgusting. Don’t tell me you were going to eat that ’cause if you say yes…. then who knows what I’ll do? Maybe I won’t be able to help myself and sick up on you.”

Brar flicked the tiny insect aside. “Don’t go running your mouth at me, Coal –‘cause I’ve had enough. The only words I want to hear right now are that you’ve repented this sudden madness, in exchange for us going home.” He tried to look dignified by pushing himself up from the dirt, and dusting himself off.

“What…? Oh no, never that. I’m here to say I’ve found it.” Smugness oozed from the cherry fellow, and he practically glowed with satisfaction. “The flowering yellow heads, I found them. They are so beautiful, like the sun – and the woman’s voice…” His own voice trailed off like a lovesick youth.

Brar slapped a pad to his forehead and shook his head. “Alright, alright. We’ll play it your way but only until we get to the edge of the damned woods you keep talking about. But I tell you, sprite, if you don’t become a hero the minute we get there then I’m turning about and going home.” He growled. It was hard not to laugh. Someone had to try and keep the sprite honest.

Coal blanched, his cherry redness fading to a sickly pink, and he covered his black lips with a finely boned hand. “Ok, if you like.” It was meek, and quite out of character.

“Come on then, show me the way.” It was a no-nonsense reply, and Brar, thoroughly fed up, waved the sprite to lead on.

***

Somewhere between death and life, Roedanth found the middle ground. A sweet, bitter centre which held him tightly bound but not to either world. It was a place where souls rested, sometimes succumbing to a final snuff. It was a place not of evil or good. There were too many shades here.

Roedanth floated, or at least he felt as though he was floating. Everywhere around him was darkness, and of course let’s not forget the pain. Each cough brought a wheezing gasp. It filled his mouth with muck, and so much more – it heightened his panic. Distantly, there was a bird calling, the sound of dried leaves scraping the ground. So, he breathed, in and out. He wondered, was this death? Would he find Peetra hiding in a dark corner somewhere, crying over the memories of Mr. Bicky’s harsh use? Would he, Roedanth, be forgiven for not knowing? His courage slipped in that moment, and he thought he felt the slick sheen of sweat on his body.

Upon his throne, a thing made of death and decay, sat Drakite – soul destroyer and creator of man. It was here that he relished his own dreams – dark desires of madness and murder – bold creations that held bubbling hate and wicked ambitions. If they flourished as quickly as this boy lay dying, he would be well pleased. All was ready. The child would not die this day. He would see to that. He had plans for one such as this young man lying face down in the mud. Those becks – his sisters and brothers – could rot for all he cared. For in the end nothing mattered.

Drakite thrilled at Roedanth’s weakened life. Crepe black skin covered brittle bones, a gaping hole with protruding teeth laughed with hate. Hollow and foul, he gripped the bone trophy, a human skull, with wild abandonment, and drained its contents in a single swallow.

As the last twitching of death released the final tresses of life from Roedanth’s pale body, Drakite took action. Scratching at his desiccated thigh, Drakite peeled off a scrap of dried skin. It flaked into his hand. With dark eagerness, he rubbed it back and forth between his fingers. He kneaded and worked the piece of crust until it was so polished that even in the gloom, it shone. Drakite readjusted his maw and blew. A fetid rasp of unclean air coated the spike he held. Ready with the taint of a god, Drakite whispered a few syllables in a language dead and forgotten. The instrument he had fashioned specifically to influence and control was finished. Seizing Roedanth’s soul, Drakite positioned the spike under the unseen membrane, lodging it with loathing. Then, he rose and left his seat, breaking several of his illusionary bones in the process.

Atheria held her breath. She stood unnoticed, a veiled shadow of herself – an unfettered composition of light, dipped in grief at the devoted corruptness of her sibling. She pitied the boy for what he was to become – and for the mark, which he now carried. Her pain was a heartfelt sorrow, so profound that it left her feeling vulnerable and open to the infectious curse of her brother’s own evil. Despair pushed up behind her eyes and, to her surprise, a singular human tear appeared. It fell without a sound.

***

 

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